Ornamental Arts at Moravian Boarding Schools

Winterthur is renowned for its incomparable Pennsylvania German collection, but few realize that it also has an excellent small group of Moravian objects. Thanks to a recent research fellowship, l have been able to study the latter pieces that were, in part, acquired by late curator of textiles Susan Burrows Swan as examples of the role fancy needlework played in the lives of young girls attending schools such as the Seminary for Female Education at Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, the Lititz School for Girls at Lititz, Pennsylvania, and the Female Academy at Salem, North Carolina. The Moravian embroidery and paintings we find in today’s museums, private collections, and antique shops often represent needlework and art projects completed by pupils from these boarding schools, including embroidery or artwork that was either sold as souvenirs to tourists visiting the Moravian communities or sent home as proof of one’s accomplishments.

Eliza Southgate Bowne (1783–1809), daughter of a well-to-do landowner in Scarborough, Maine, toured Bethlehem in the summer of 1803 and mentioned to her mother in a letter, “We went to a room where they keep their work for sale—pocket-books, pin-balls, toilette cushions, baskets, artificial flowers, etc.” (1)  The Winterthur collection contains representative examples of such artwork and ornamental sewing, including this needle case made circa 1819–1827 by a still-to-be-identified Bethlehem Moravian boarding school student.

Needlework case by Wilkinson, Moravian School, Bethlehem, PA, 1819-27. Museum purchase with funds provided by the Embroiderers Guild of America 1989.0049 A, B

Instead of using yarn or thread to work the embroidery designs, the young girl opted for a ribbon work technique taught by the Moravians. Using specially shaded and dyed narrow silk chiffon ribbons, she raised the design from the ground, creating a three-dimensional, lifelike scene of freshly plucked field flowers. The above smaller “pocketbook” fits into the larger envelope case below and, what at first glance appears to be a beautifully embroidered purse, is really intended to hold sewing needles.

Needlework case by Wilkinson, Moravian School, Bethlehem, PA, 1819-27. Museum purchase with funds provided by the Embroiderers Guild of America 1989.0049 A, B

Embroidering on paper rather than linen or silk required a great deal of skill as a wrong stitch could not be undone. In 1779 Moravian Elisabeth Horsfield Lindenmeyer (1737–1814) (2) embroidered roses, carnations, violets, and other blossoms onto laid paper, creating a border around the Moravian daily Losung or watchword for September 21, 1779.

Needlework picture by Elisabeth Lindenmeyer, Moravian School, Bethlehem, PA, 1779. Museum purchase with funds provided by the Special Fund for Collection Objects 1985.0051

Elisabeth penned the two separate texts—the first from Isaiah 29:19 and the last from a prayer of meditation found originally in the Meditationes sanctorum partum of 1587—and signed her name in Fraktur script within the floral cartouche. The watchword reads in English:

“The meek also shall increase their joy in the LORD, and the poor
among men shall rejoice in the Holy One of Israel. Isaiah 29:19 [KJV].
If I have You, then to be sure I have found eternal pleasure. (3)
Elis[abeth] Lindenmeyer.” (4)

The use of a Losung began in 1731 when the Moravian leader Count Nicholaus Ludwig von Zinzendorf (1700–1760) began choosing daily meditative verses for his followers. They were published in a booklet and distributed to all members. No matter where one found himself in the world, and for the Moravians that meant everywhere, all were to meditate as a unified body on the designated biblical verse(s) of the day.

The Moravian Museum of Bethlehem has several similar examples of embroidery on paper, attesting to the high level of sewing expertise among the women and girls in the Moravian community. It is also worth noting that Moravian artists/scriveners created birthday Fraktur watercolors on paper that featured daily watchwords within a floral wreath. (5)

Class II Art Exam Exercise by Conrad B. Oppelt, Nazareth Hall Moravian Boys’ Boarding School, Nazareth, PA, 1818. Winterthur Library 71 x 211, 45a

Conrad B. Oppelt of Ohio, age 13, Class II, drew and painted the above watercolor of a fresh bouquet of narcissus and roses tied with a rose-colored ribbon as his art exam exercise on May 9, 1818, at Nazareth Hall, the Moravian Boys Boarding School, Nazareth, Pennsylvania. (6)  Similar drawings from art classes/exams frequently became patterns for embroidery on work bags such as the Moravian example below. Besides the needlework, the student also painted or penned inscriptions in black on the front and reverse of this reticule: “Where Lehi flows & feeds sweet flow’rs, T’was wrought in Bethlehem’s pleasant bow’rs. 1807,” and “Friendship sweetens the cares of life.” (7)  Both boys and girls made birthday greetings, friendship cards, watch papers, quill boxes, etc., and ornamented them with beautifully-wrought ribboned garlands of flowers, adding either inscriptions in Roman script, such as seen here, or in Fraktur script.

Purse (reticule) by M. G., Moravian School, Bethlehem, PA. Museum purchase 1980.0006

The Pennsylvania Dutch and Moravians had an ebullient love of all living things: the flowers, trees, the glowing verdant land upon which they grew, and the hushed sheltered walkways. The tangible productions these communities made reflect the unspoken universal sacred connection between man and nature. Perhaps this is why they so often ornamented whatever they utilized in their everyday lives with flowers. One thing is certain: the early Pennsylvania material culture housed in the Winterthur Museum, Garden, and Library reflects what Henry Francis du Pont sensed in his garden. As  noted in the book The Winterthur Garden: Henry Francis du Pont’s Romance with the Land by  Denise Magnani, “His message is a simple one: cultivate your garden; your soul will follow. Everything is connected.” (8)

Winterthur view from top of hill left of Quarry Garden. “Keep this view open forever,” H. F. du Pont, 1962.


Post by Del-Louise Moyer, a Winterthur Research Fellow who has been researching the incredible resources at the Winterthur Museum, Garden, and Library for a book she is writing entitled Heavenly Fraktur: How Fraktur Influenced Pennsylvania Dutch and Moravian Material Culture.



 (1) Eliza Southgate Bowne.  Letters of Eliza Southgate, Mrs. Walter Bowne.
[ New York: The De Vinne Press, 188-?], 239/414. Accessed 10/16/2016 at

 (2) Elisabeth Horsfield Lindenmeyer (1737-1814) was the daughter of Timothy Horsfield, Sr. (1708-1773), a very wealthy butcher from Long Island, who touched by the spiritual teachings of the Moravians, moved to Bethlehem, Pa. in 1749.  Here he served as Justice of the Peace, and came to play a major role among those of political and civic responsibilities in the greater Philadelphia area.  His daughter was known to be very high-strung, and to suffer from nervous disorders.  Elisabeth married the Rev. Henry Lindenmeyer (1728-1817), who served the Moravian churches at Emmaus and York, Pa.

 (3) Cunrad Höier. “Ein Trostgebet…aus Meditationes sanctorum patrum, 1587” cited in Philipp Wackernagel’s Das deutsche Kirchenlied…5ter Band. Leipzig: B. G. Teubner, 1877, Nr. 121, 5. Strophe, 84.

 (4) [Original German] Loosung den 21sten Sept 1779 | Die Elenden werden wieder Freude haben am HERRN und die Armen | unter den Menschen werden fröhlich | seyn in den heiligen Israel. Jes. 29, 19. | Wenn ich dich hab so hab ich wol | Was mich ewig erfreuen soll. | Elis. Lindenmeyerin.

 (5) Birthday greeting to Jacob van Vleck (3/24/1751-7/3/1831) for 24 March 1795 by Anna Rosel Kliest. Fraktur watercolor Ms. Moravian Archives at Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.

 (6) Carl B. Oppelt’s watercolor is found in a scrapbook collection of drawings done by the boys of Nazareth Hall for their art exam exercises from 1793-1828 entitled “Drawings by Students of Nazareth Hall.”  The drawings were pasted to the scrapbook pages, and on the inside front cover is a printed notice about the school, ca. 1860, issued by Rev. Edward H. Reichel, Principal. Winterthur purchased the scrapbook from Parke Bernet Galleries.

(7) Hand- embroidered and painted Moravian Reticule made by M. G. of Moravian Girls Boarding School at Bethlehem, Pa. in 1807, 1980.006. Accessed 30 January 2017 at Winterthur Museum Collections, http://bit.ly/2kLQUd6

(8) Denise Magnani. The Winterthur Garden: Henry Francis du Pont’s Romance with the Land. NY: H. N. Abrams in association with the Henry Francis du Pont Winterthur Museum, 1995, 162.

(9) Ibid, 160.


Henry S. Borneman. Pennsylvania German Illuminated Manuscripts.  Publications of the Pennslvania German Society, vol. 46.  Norristown, Pa.: Pennsylvania German Society, 1937.

Eliza Southgate Bowne.  A Girl’s Life Eighty Years Ago. New York:  Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1887, 13, 172-175, 188-190.

_______________.  Letters of Eliza Southgate, Mrs. Walter Bowne.
[ New York: The De Vinne Press, 188-?], 239/414. Accessed 16 October 2016 at

Susan Swan Burrows. A Winterthur Guide to American Needlework. Winterthur, Del.:Henry Francis du Pont Winterthur Museum, 1976, Fig. 16, 24.

_______________. Plain and Fancy: American Women and Their Needlework, 1700–1850. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1995.

Ellen Gehret. This is the Way I Pass My Time:  A Book About Pennsylvania German Decorated Hand Towels. Birdsboro, Pa.:  Pennsylvania German Society, 1985, 58, 273.

  1. H. Hacker. Nazareth Hall, an Historical Sketch and Roster of Principals, Teachers and Pupils. Bethlehem, Pa.: Times Pub. Co., 1910. Accessed 13 October 2016 at

Mabel Haller. “Early Moravian Education in Pennsylvania,” in Transactions of the Moravian Historical Society. Nazareth, Pa.: Moravian Historical Society, 1953, Vol. 15.

Mabel Haller, Clifford Shipton, Howard Brinton & Arthur Middleton. Moravian Influence on Higher Education in Colonial America, n.p., 1958, reprint.

Patricia T. Herr.  “Moravian Schoolgirl Needlework in Lititz, Pennsylvania,” in The Magazine Antiques 143, no. 2 (Feb. 1993): 308-317.

_______________. The Ornamental Branches:  Needlework and Arts from Lititz Moravian Girls’ School Between 1800 and 1965 ([Lancaster, Pa.]:  Heritage Center Museum of Lancaster County; Virginia Beach, Va.; Donning Co., 1996.

Kathleen Eagen Johnson. To Expand the Mind and Embellish Society: The Education, Philosophy, and Ornamental Arts of the Bethlehem Young Ladies” Seminary, 1785-1840, Thesis, Masters of Fine Arts, University of Delaware, 1978

____________________. “19th-Century Moravian Schoolgirl Art,” in Art and Antiques, vol. 3, issue 6 (Nov/December 1980): 78—83.

Thomas a Kempis. “Der Herr” in Das Buch von der Nachfolge Christi, Buch 3. Reutlingen, Germany: bey Jakob Noa fischer, 1834, 217-218, Accessed 25 October 2016 at http://bit.ly/2gSNSld.

Friedrich Machtholf. “Gebundene Seufzer Eines mit Gott Vertrauten Herzens, gedruckt in 1795” in Karl Friedrich Ledderhoses Leben und Schriften des Gottlieb Friedrich Machtholf, Pfarrers von Möttlingen. Heidelberg: Universitätsbuchhandlung von Karl Winter, 1862, p. 51. Accessed 17 September 2016 at http://bit.ly/2gVXY4S.  

Denise Magnani. The Winterthur Garden: Henry Francis du Pont’s Romance with the Land. NY: H. N. Abrams in association with the Henry Francis du Pont Winterthur Museum, 1995.

Del-Louise Moyer. “A Little Flower Embodies the Wisdom that was Forever with God,” Pennsylvania German Blog, Post 14, published  29 December 2016 at https://alyssumarts.com/2016/12/29/a-little-flower-embodies-the-wisdom-that-was-forever-with-god/

Nazareth Hall Collection at Winterthur. Accessed 13 October 2016 at http://findingaid.winterthur.org/html/HTML_Finding_Aids/COL0212.htm.

Johann Friedrich Netto. Zeichen-Mahler-und Stickerbuch zur Selbstbelehrung für Damen welche sich mit diesen Künsten beschäftigen. Leipzig: Bei voss und Compagnie, 1795.

_________________. Zeichen-Mahler-und Stickerbuch zur Selbstbelehrung für Damen welche sich mit diesen Künsten beschäftigen. Leipzig: Bei Voss und Compagnie, 1795, Accessed Herzogin Anna Amalia Bibliothek/Klassik Stiftung Weimar elektronische Reproduktion 30 January 2017 at  http://haab-digital.klassik-stiftung.de/viewer/image/1638490465/135/LOG_0021/

“Nur einer ist…” in Gesangbuch zum Gebrauch der evangelischen Brüdergemeinen. Barby, gedruckt durch Lorenz Friedrich Spellenberg, 1778, [Hymn]1344, Verse 2, Mel. 14, 650, Accessed 1 November 2016 at http://bit.ly/2gutwvd

William C. Reichel.  A History of the Rise, Progress, and Present Condition of the Moravian Seminary for Young Ladies, at Bethlehem, Pa….  Second ed., rev. & enl.  Philadelphia:  J. B. Lippincott, 1874; first ed., 1858, 37; 65; 66; 189-199.
Accessed 13 October 2016 at http://bit.ly/2ktAMwQ

Pennsylvania German Folk Art. Publication of The Pennsylvania German Folklore Society, vol. 28, Allentown, Pa., Schlecter’s, 1966.

John Joseph Stoudt. Pennsylvania German Folk Art. Publication of the Pennsylvania

German Folklore Society, vol. 28, Allentown, Pa., Schlecter’s, 1966, 348.

Gerhard Tersteegen.  Geistliches Blumen=Gärtlein Inniger Seelen, Oder kurtze Schluß=Reimen Betrachtungen und Lieder Über allerhand warheiten des Innwendigen Christenthums;  Zur Erweckung, Stärckung, und Erquickung in dem Verborgenen Leben mit Christo in GOtt.  Nebst der Frommen Lotterie. In Teutschland zum 4ten Mahl gedruckt; und nun in America das erste Mahl Gedruckt zu Germanton bey Christoph Saur/ 1747, verso of Title Page.

Philipp Wackernagel. Das deutsche Kirchenlied…5ter Band. Leipzig: B. G. Teubner, 1877.

Candace Wheeler. The Development of Embroidery in America. New York, London: Harper & Bros., 1982, 67-70.


All transcriptions & translations by author.  

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